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(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Roy and me and the ’39 Ford coupe

Roy and I were best friends. We lived in apartment houses – that’s what they were called back then – just across Mariposa Street from one another in Los Angeles.

I lived at the Embassy Apartments with my two old aunts, Edith and Sarah Jane. Roy lived right across the street at the DuVar Apartments with his mom, Lily Mae, and a crotchety old boarder by the name of Mr. Oliver.

This was a neighborhood graced by once stately and fashionable, but by now aging and deteriorating, apartment buildings in an area of Los Angeles known as the Wilshire District.

It’s become something else today, but in those days, when Roy and I were hanging out together, this was a primarily Jewish neighborhood with businesses like Sam’s Market and Mort’s Deli just around the corner on Eighth Street, and those great cooking smells coming from Mrs. Lieberman’s kitchen one floor below.

Our buildings were literally within a stone’s throw of the venerable Brown Derby restaurant, the Ambassador Hotel and the world famous Coconut Grove night club — the hangout for the Hollywood insiders of the time. Sadly, all are now gone along with so many other Los Angeles landmarks.

With its underground parking lots, rooftops and fire escapes, the Ambassador was just the place for a couple of adventurous adolescents with more guts than brains. Looking back on those days of vacant lot playgrounds and back alley shenanigans, it’s hard to believe we survived to tell the tale.

We could, and actually did, signal to one another while hanging from our respective fourth floor fire escapes, which is no doubt one of the reasons why Lily Mae and my old aunts insisted Roy and I were a bad influence on one another. If they only knew!

What led me to this walk down Memory Lane? Well, last night we were watching a program called American Pickers. The boys had located an old sign with the name “Earl Scheib” on it. That started the memories flowing.

If you’re old enough, you might remember the famous (at the time) advertising slogan: “Hi, I’m Earl Scheib and I’ll paint any car, any color for $19.95. No ups, no extras.”

Yes, $19.95! Laugh if you will, but by 1975 Scheib had operations in 23 states and in two countries overseas. The price kept going up over time of course and about the time it hit $49.95, Roy and I had put our bikes and cap pistols away and were thinking more in terms of cars, drivers licenses and, well, you know.

I can remember where Roy and I met the younger Scheib. It was at Scrivner’s Drive-In at Sunset and Cahuenga. We were there with our friend, Dick Lydon, and his mighty ’41 Buick convertible. Dick was Jimmy Lydon’s little brother.

Jimmy LydonJimmy was an actor and TV producer involved in more than 60 movies and productions between 1937 and 1987.

But, anyway, into the drive-in comes this extremely cool (no, you didn’t invent “cool” . . . we did!) black ’39 Ford Phaeton street rod, chopped, channeled, wide whites, dual Advance mufflers, and the works! It became the immediate center of attention, which was of course the purpose of the driver who was none other than Earl Scheib’s son.

Lydon knew him and took us over to meet young Scheib. Thus began Roy’s and my love affair with the incomparable ’39 Ford. We were hooked and the search began.

Since neither of us had any money, we began prowling the junk yards. It didn’t take us long to find a ’39 coupe in reasonable shape in a yard down on Avalon Boulevard. We scraped together the 50 bucks and bought it. By “reasonable shape” I mean it had a mill, wheels and tires but that was about all. No seats in this beauty, but that wasn’t about to stop us.

Long story short, we inflated the flat tires, somehow got the engine running, put a couple of orange crates inside for seats and headed for our “garage” which was a wooden shack in a back alley off of Seventh Avenue that belonged to another friend.

Along the way we decided to get adventurous and take the “freeway.” Picture this: The Hollywood Freeway at the time was a barely finished stretch of pavement in the Silver Lake District about two miles long with an on-ramp at one end and an off-ramp at the other.

We got on the ramp, Roy gunned it, and in typical “Me and Roy” fashion, the orange crates went over backward and both of us ended up in the trunk scrambling to get to the brake before the car did a rollover.

A cop came upon the scene and yelled, “You’re not supposed to have this thing on the road!” He was trying hard to stifle a laugh. Cops seemed to laugh more then. “Get that junker out-a-here before I give you a ticket!”

Lydon, who was following in his monster ’41 Buick convertible, had our chain hoist with him so we rigged it for towing. After a variety of bumps and grinds we finally got to our “garage” where we couldn’t wait to break out the tools.

Our tools consisted of a bumper jack, a socket set with half the sockets missing, a hammer held together with friction tape and a couple pairs of pliers. Oh, and that chain hoist. There’s more I’d like to tell you about that chain hoist, but I’ve run out of space.

Within the limits of our budget, which was usually zero, Roy and I set about customizing our ’39 coupe. Eventually, after many bloodied noses and knuckles, and a near-fatal episode involving the aforementioned chain hoist, we managed to get it into barely acceptable Hollywood Boulevard “cruising” condition.

But then, the time came to face the pressing considerations of the day. We said goodbye to our treasured ’39 and went our separate ways. Wherever you are, old buddy, those were the days. Roy, I really miss you pal.

About Robert Sears

Robert Sears is a professional driving instructor who once owned a company that trained more than 70,000 people to drive. Today he is an author working on several non-fiction books and writing traffic safety articles for consumer and special interest publications. He is a 30-year motorhome owner who has logged several hundred thousand miles of RV driving experience.

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